Have you ever read the ingredients list on your shampoo bottle? Do you know what is in the toothpaste you use? Have you ever wondered how safe the chemicals in your kitchen or bathroom cleaner are?
Conventional hygiene and cleaning products contain some pretty questionable things. Most are unpronounceable, and definitely can’t be made outside of a lab. Think about how many products you use in one day; toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, moisturizer, lotion, perfume/cologne, deodorant, make-up, make-up remover… and that’s just personal hygiene products! Chances are you also have that cupboard under the sink chock full of various cleaning products; stuff specially made for counters, toilets, glass, tile, ovens, floors, walls, carpets, dishwasher tablets, washing up liquid.. and not to mention laundry detergent, stain remover, fabric softener, and dryer sheets.
Talk about a toxic overload! We take these things for granted; it’s just ‘what you do’ isn’t it? But the effects of these products on our bodies is serious business. The toxins in these chemical cocktails can cause cancer, diabetes, obesity, birth defects, infertility, and disorders of the brain or nervous system, among other things. If you want to read how this happens, Chris Kresser’s post on toxins is a good start. I’m not going to tell you the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of it all- there are many articles and books on the subject already. I’m just going to tell you what I’ve personally been doing for the last 2.5 years to lessen my chemical load.
In addition to the health implications, buying all these products can get expensive. If you add up how much money you spend in a year on household cleaners and personal hygiene, you may be surprised at the amount. The methods I use are not only good for you, but super cheap! We only spend about £60 per year.
Most cleaning is done with my homemade all-purpose cleaner; a mixture of 1 part water to 1 part white vinegar, with a few drops of essential oil added for scent. I make a tea tree version (which is naturally antibacterial) and a lavender one. It gets used on kitchen surfaces, windows and mirrors, inside the fridge and microwave (which has now been put away since we never use it), on the toilet, sink, and bath, on the floors, cupboards, and nearly anywhere else I want to clean. Vinegar is primarily composed of acetic acid and has many cleaning uses, according to the Wikipedia page.
Castile soap is traditionally made from olive oil or laurel oil and can be used to clean floors or dishes. You can add castile soap to water for another all-purpose cleaner.
For laundry, I use Charlie’s soap powder. There are several recipes online for making your own laundry powder, but Charlie’s is cheap enough and easy, which is essential with a newborn! Charlie’s is safe for use on cloth nappies and is very concentrated. 1 tablespoon is all you need for a full load of laundry- really. A £15 1.2kg jar lasts us 6 months, and that is doing laundry every day or every other day. Charlie’s also makes a range of other products, including liquid detergent, stain remover, and dishwasher detergent.
Sometimes Caleb’s gNappies get stained, even after going through the wash. When this happens, I boil them in a pot on the stove, with a teaspoon of baking soda added to the water. The stains come out instantly. Baking soda can also be used to dissolve stubborn messes, such as stains on the inside of the oven. Add vinegar for an extra boost. Baking soda is also great at neutralizing odors; sprinkle some on the carpets before you vacuum, or keep an open box in the fridge.
You may be wondering what I use olive oil for. We have a lovely wood dining table and set of chairs, and olive oil is a gentle and effective furniture polish.
Castile soap is not only a great household cleaner, it cleans bodies and hair too! I use it as a body wash and shampoo, as well as a hand soap. It’s safe for babies and children, as well as adults. Dr Bronner’s castile soap comes in several different scents. My favorites are citrus and peppermint.
Coconut oil is the only thing I put on my skin. It’s a great moisturizer plus it smells delicious! It is also purported to prevent sunburn when used as a sunscreen (if we ever get sunshine strong enough to burn skin, I will try it and let you know!). While I don’t use conditioner (who needs it? My hair feels no worse now than when I used conditioner every day) I do sometimes use coconut oil as a hair mask. Apply melted oil to hair from root to tip. Leave this on for as little as 15 minutes, or overnight if you want. You will probably need to wash your hair a couple times to get it all out, but you will be left with lovely, soft hair! Coconut oil is also a very effective make-up remover! Put some melted oil on a cotton ball and watch as your make-up disappears.
Olive oil can also be used in place of coconut oil for any of these things. In fact, Jeanne Calment who is known for having the longest confirmed lifespan ever, ascribed her longevity and relatively youthful appearance for her age to olive oil, which she said she poured on all her food and rubbed onto her skin.
I use Tom’s of Maine Propolis and Myrrh Fennel Fluoride-Free toothpaste. It tastes nice but not overpowering like regular toothpastes, doesn’t have the nasty chemicals or fluoride that conventional toothpaste has, and the price is alright. A little goes a long way, and a tube generally lasts me 6 months. However toothpaste is easy enough to make yourself, too. Coconut oil + baking soda + essential oil is a popular recipe.
Deodorants and antiperspirants may seem innocuous but most contain aluminium, among other harmful ingredients. This heavy metal can cause nervous system disorders and is connected to Alzheimer’s disease. Also, antiperspirants suppress your body’s natural release of toxins through sweat. Since I switched to eating paleo, I don’t sweat or smell much (pregnancy notwithstanding). A lot of paleo folks have found this to be the case. I don’t need any heavy-duty deodorants, and I find crystal deodorant works well for me. This handy FAQ page from one company sums up how it works. If you don’t like the idea of using a salt crystal, coconut oil mixed with baking soda makes a good deodorant. There are other recipes online which call for a few more ingredients, if you want to get fancy!
I don’t use perfume or wear make-up, except on special occasions. I know many people aren’t willing to forgo these things. In that case, consider switching to less-harmful products, such as essential oil and mineral makeup. The Skin Deep Database is a fantastic resource which “creates online safety profiles for cosmetics and personal care products. Our aim is to fill in where industry and government leave off. Companies are allowed to use almost any ingredient they wish. The U.S. government doesn’t review the safety of products before they’re sold. Our staff scientists compare the ingredients on personal care product labels and websites to information in nearly 60 toxicity and regulatory databases.” There are over 79,000 products in their database, rated on a scale of 1-10 (10 being most toxic). Find out how your favourite products rate, and find less-harmful alternatives.
There are many other methods and products available for household cleaning and personal care, such as soap nuts or homemade dryer sheets. You can even make your own makeup! I do really like to keep this as simple as possible though, so I haven’t tried many of those options. You may wonder if all this actually keeps our environment clean enough. Since switching 2.5 years ago, I’ve been sick twice. I had a sinus infection after having surgery two years ago (which I attribute to being in the hospital), and I had a mild cold while I was pregnant. My partner has been sick just as infrequently. Our son is 15 weeks old and has never been sick. That is proof to us that we don’t need all the antibacterial, antimicrobial, harsh products marketed to us.
Are you considering switching from any conventional products to natural ones? What would be the hardest thing for you to give up? Remember that it’s okay to start small and make a gradual transition. Any reduction in exposure to toxins is going to boost your health!